Monday, April 13, 2009

Workloads and Wages

This morning, as I was thinking of all the various, arcane things I've learned over the years that "regular"people don't know, I thought of how academic wages and workloads are set up, and how I had no clue that was how they worked until I was a part of the guild. Here are the parts that surprised me, in retroscpect.

Workloads vary enormously between schools. What are called "R1" institutions - a handful of large, well-endowed (snicker) schools that are oriented toward cutting edge research - have their professors teach only 2 courses per semester. One of these will probably be a large undergraduate class, but for that course, the professor will probably get a teaching assistant (or even more than one TA). The other course will probably be a small graduate seminar, which might have only four students, and which (in my experience) the professor often turns over completely to student presentations for the second half of the semester. At the other extreme, someone teaching in a community college will teach FIVE courses per semester. All of these will be large undergraduate courses, and, of course, no TAs. In my present post at Iona College, I am nearer the latter end - I teach four courses/semester and all are undergraduate.

Wages do not vary as much between schools. Especially not STARTING wages. As above, the teaching load varies by as much as 2.5 to 1. Starting salaries between schools are much closer. This can make a huge (almost insurmountable) difference between schools located in places with very different costs of living - 45k in Iowa will buy you a much more comfortable lifestyle than 50k in San Francisco. And since schools are competing for candidates, they often try to make their starting offers comparable, but down the road, after ten years of very different annual raises, you can find yourself making much less than a colleague at a different school, even when you started at similar spots.

There's no particular moral to this story. I'm just saying things turn out quite differently than I would've expected, because the whole process is not transparent, or known to "regular" people.


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